The Six Human Emotional Needs | Personal Success | Success tips and life stories from Adam Khoo, Asia's top success coach.

The Six Human Emotional Needs

In this post (which is going to be my longest), I would like to share a powerful insight that I have used to help thousands of people to understand themselves, create breakthrough changes in their behaviours (e.g. stop smoking, quit other addictions, resolve internal conflicts, motivate themselves) and reconcile relationship issues.

Have you wondered why it is seems so difficult to change our habitual behaviours? The reason is because our decisions and behaviours are driven by our emotions more than by our logic. Logically, we want to stop smoking or stop overeating, and yet, we still find ourselves repeating the pattern of behaviours. Why do we do this? It is because smoking and over eating meets our emotional needs.

At the same time, we all logically want to have a great relationship with our spouse or friends. And yet, we sometimes find ourselves getting into the same patterns of arguments and conflicts. Again, this is all caused by a mismatch of emotional needs between well-intentioned parties.

To change any kind of behaviour, you must first understand that as human beings, our decisions and actions are almost ALWAYS driven by the need to meet six human (emotional) needs. This is why we sometimes do things that don’t make any sense at all. We do it simply to meet these 6 human needs (by the way, this was developed by Anthony Robbins). So, what are these 6 human needs?

Human Need 1: Certainty

The first human need is the need for CERTAINTY. We all need to feel a sense of security that things will be okay. Certainty gives us peace of mind and assurance.

Although we all have the need for CERTAINTY, we use different behavioural strategies to meet this need. For example, when you feel stressed, worried, unsure and uncertain, how do you meet your need for certainty?

Some people use destructive strategies like over-eating, smoking or drinking alcohol. Don’t some people do these things to relieve the stress of uncertainty and get into certainty? Others get certainty by controlling other people (becoming a control freak) or by losing their temper. In one episode of Oprah, she interviewed a woman who handled her stress of being sexually abused by creating a multiple personality disorder.

At the same time, there are useful strategies to get certainty. Some people pray/use religion to get that sense of certainty. Some people, adopt empowering beliefs like, ‘ I know I will get through this’ or ‘everything happens for a reason’ or they simply have faith in themselves. Others get certainty through exercise, meditation or confiding in a friend.

So, think about this? How DO you meet your need for certainty? Is it constructive or destructive to you?

Human Need 2: Uncertainty

Now, here is the big paradox! As human beings, we have a second emotional need that is in direct conflict with our first need. We all have a need for UNCERTAINTY!

Think about it. If you had absolute 100% certainty in your life where you knew exactly what was going to happen, when it was going to happen, how it happens, before it happens every single day, how will you feel? You will feel BORED TO DEATH. This is why there are multi millionaires who have all the money and all the possessions in the world, but are depressed! Their life is so certain that they have no more challenges or surprises. No more uncertainty!

This is also why a woman/man in a perfect marriage where everything is routine and predictable will eventually get so bored, that they will unconsciously start picking a fight, having an affair or leave the marriage. There is no more excitement and stimulation that we all need emotionally.

So, how do people meet the emotional need of uncertainty (i.e. challenge/surprise/variety) in their lives? Again, some people do destructive things like having an affair, starting arguments, picking up one-night stands, taking drugs, smoking when bored and drinking to get high (yup, smoking and drinking offer both certainty AND uncertainty).

Some of us do neutral stuff like watching a movie, playing sports, changing jobs, making new friends or partying. This gives us the stimulation and variety we all need.

Some constructive strategies would include taking on new challenges (e.g. going mountain climbing, traveling, starting a business, writing a book). So think about it, how do you meet your need for uncertainty?

Human Need 3: Significance

The third human emotional need is the need to feel significant/special/unique/important/needed. We all hunger for this need and again pursue it in different ways.

Some people feel significant by attaining qualifications (e.g. MBAs, PhDs etc..), achieving success, buying lots of toys (e.g. bigger house, bigger car, country club, Rolex watch etc…) or pursuing status symbols.

Others get significance by putting other people down, dressing in a unique way or tattooing every conceivable part of their body. Again, others feel significance by having children (and making sure they excel and do them proud) or flaunting their wealth. Some people get significance by being proud of certain identities they adopt like being a Christian, a Muslim, an Army Officer, a Vegetarian etc…

Many people have asked me why I continue to work so hard to write so many books, spend hours writing posts on my BLOG and speak at so many seminars when I clearly don’t really need the money anymore. The answer is that I am driven to all these things because it makes me feel significant (useful, special, needed) and provides me the uncertainty (challenge & variety) that I crave. It also, gives me the 4th human need, connection and love and the 6th human need, contribution.

Again, think about how YOU meet the need to feel significance?

Human Need 4: Love and Connection

The 4th human need is in direct conflict with the 3rd human need of SIGNIFICANCE. Think about this. If you felt TOTALLY significant where you were so unique, so special and so different from all the people around you. Would you be happy? No! You would feel disconnected from the people around you.

One of our strongest needs as humans in the need to be accepted, to be loved and connected to the people around us. Once we become so special and unique, we will start to find ourselves losing that connection to our peers. I can tell you that I feel that way sometimes myself. At times I find it difficult to really be myself, connect with people I meet because people keep expecting me to be this perfect guru, with all the answers.

Have you ever wondered why a superstar like Britney Spears with all the fame, money and talent in the world could end up screwing up her life by engaging in destructive behaviours like drink driving, drug taking that would lead to 2 divorces, losing custody of her children and ending up in a mental institution? My guess is that although she felt total significance, she felt unloved and disconnected from everyone around her.

She probably could not be herself, always having to put up a front and feeling that all the people around her were just using her. Her need for connection and love probably drove her to mix around with the wrong company (i.e. Paris Hilton) and engaging in destructive behaviours that would get her the love/connection and sympathy she was lacking.

We all need to feel love and connection and again get it through different means. Some people get connection by getting into a relationship, getting married, making love, joining clubs, playing with their children, having pets, prayer (connection to God) or hanging out with friends.

Sometimes, people even ‘try’ to get love and connection by self-abuse and falling sick (studies show 90% of all illnesses are psychosomatic). This gives them the sudden outpour of sympathy and love that they yearn for. How do you get love and connection in your life?

If Your Relationship is Not Happy, Here’s Why…

I have found after working with many couples that whenever a marriage breaks down, it is always because partners are not meeting each others emotional needs.

A man (or woman) often wants to leave the marriage either because he/she no longer feels significant, loved, certainty or uncertainty by his/her partner. What is a very very common scenario is that after a couple has a child, the man no longer feels the same level of significance anymore. It seems that his wife spends all the time with the kids, that he is no longer important. So what happens? He rather spend his time in the office where he feels more significant or find a girlfriend who makes him feel special again!

So, here is a point of reflection. How well are you meeting your partner’s emotional needs?

If Your Staff Are Leaving Your Company, Here’s Why…

As a boss of my own company and a person who trains other companies in bringing put the best in their employees, I have found that your staff will only be happy and motivated to give their best when they feel significant (they are praised often and recognized), certainty (sense of security of their future in the company), uncertainty (their jobs gives them variety and challenge) as well as connection (they love the people they work with and have a sense of belonging).

Similarly, people leave a company not only for monetary reasons. They leave when they feel a lack of security (certainty), lack of challenge (uncertainty), lack of connection (they hate the people) or a lack of significance (unappreciated).

Reflection: if you are a boss/team leader, are you meeting your staff’s/colleagues emotional needs to bring out the best in them?

If You Have An Addiction that You Cannot Change, Here’s Why…

Finally, I have found that if you have a negative behaviour that you find hard to change, it is only because it is being used to meet two or more of your emotional needs. For example, if you find yourself constantly losing your temper, it is because it gives you a sense of significance and certainty.

If you find it difficult to stop smoking, it is probably it meets your needs for certainty (relaxes and de-stresses you), uncertainty (smoke when you feel bored), connection (especially if you smoke with friends to ‘fit in’) and significance (makes you look ‘cool’). Often, when a behaviour meets more than 2 needs, it becomes an ADDICTION.

In my patterns of excellence programs, I show people how to break limiting patterns of behaviours by first finding an alternative way to meet their needs. If you do not find a new useful alternative behaviour to replace it, you will find yourself going back to the old habit/addiction.

The Last Two Human Needs: Growth and Contribution

You are probably wondering what the last two human emotional needs are. Understand that the first four needs MUST be met by us constantly. It is what drives our daily behaviours.

However, to be truly fulfilled and happy, we need to meet the last two needs of ‘growth’ and ‘contribution’. We need to constantly grow by learning more and challenging ourselves to become better. The moment we stop growing, we start dying emotionally.

Finally, we all need to contribute beyond ourselves, This is why people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett make all the money in the world only to give most of it away to charity. contribution is what gives us ultimate purpose and fulfillment in life.


15 Comments so far

  1. marge on December 21st, 2008

    excellent article. i need your article to grow.

  2. Julia on December 22nd, 2008

    Your articles are made simple and relevant. You are the best amongst other mentors. Thank you very much for sharing and giving boundlessly.

  3. Masade on December 29th, 2008

    What do you think about New Year’s Resolution…
    Please Give advise about it…

  4. Leong on December 30th, 2008

    Adam, I’m just curious.
    Is it true that the more successful we get; the less time we have and the more stress we get?
    Hope you can clear my doubt, ty.

  5. Aaron on January 1st, 2009


    I hope i can assist you in your question.
    I don’t think the more successful u get the less time u have and the more stress u have.

    Its total opposite.
    I mean
    the less successful u are
    = more time u work
    = the less time u spend with your family
    = the more stress u have

    The more successful u are
    = lesser time u work
    = more time for your family
    = less stress!

    although i have to say that you’ll always have stress and problems.

  6. Lee on January 5th, 2009

    I hope you will read this, Mr.Khoo.

    Hey adam , i’m another fan and supporter of yours from Malaysia. I’m actually 14 years and 8 months old. I have many things in common with you. You are my only inspiration. Every day when i wake in the morning ,the first thing i see is your books because i will read it and keep it beside me on my bed every night.
    When i first started to be interested in creating wealth ,it was like 4 month ago. The things that motivated me to do that was quite strong(I’ll talk about it later). But i couldn’t buy a book about it because i didn’t have any money(by the way, i come from a poor family) and another thing was that i didn’t know which book to buy until i saw your book in the bookstore. And i end up borrowing money from my dad to buy your book, but deep down i understand that i made one of the most important decision in my life.
    As i said before that i came from a poor family, i knew that if i don’t make a move to change things around me, my generations below will probably suffer more. So i made up my mind. As you said before in your books that we must know why we want to be rich. And frankly I am telling you here what pushes me everyday. Even when i write these things down I feel like crying. And most importantly , what my parents went through was 10 times harder than my life. We were looked down from our relatives. I know that i shouldn’t be writing down this much things but i really don’t know who to tell.
    Anyways…i think that i have a lot things in common with u .I hope to get your e-mail add so that i can tell u more. Mine’s
    Thanx for listening to my pieces of crap. Really appreciate your time.

  7. Adam Khoo on January 6th, 2009

    I believe you will achieve alot of success in your life by applying all the things you have read in my books. BTW, dun put your comments down.

  8. […] The Six Human Emotional Needs […]

  9. Ivory Way on May 20th, 2011

    Thank you Adam for inspiring me in so many ways. 🙂

  10. Madeline Ong on June 23rd, 2011

    Hi Adam

    Your article on 6 human emotional needs is so good and revelent to me. FYI, I am suffering from this Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and I am obsessed about cleanliness. I like things to be clean and I have sought help from Drs & many Pschologists who doesn’t seem to be able to help me.

    After reading your article, I realise the reason why I can’t break free from my obsessiveness in cleanliness…it is because it meets my need for “Certainty”. You see, I don’t get any sense of security from my husband as I live in fear of his temper and anger problem. Hence being clean meets my Certainty need as when I feel clean, I feel comfortable and secure especially my bed. In your article, you have advised to break free from addiction, I have to find my alternative way to meet my certainty need.

    So, let’s say if I find my alternative way to get security from God……and I do feel secure about God…..but how come I am still addicted to getting security from being clean eg I like all my things to be wiped clean before I use it….and if it is dirty, I feel yucky and not at peace & I dont like this feeling.

    Kindly advise.

    Madeline Ong

  11. Adam on July 1st, 2011

    Dear Madeline

    Sorry for this late reply. Yes, you are probably very right that it meets your need for certainty. While you can find other ways to meet that same need, the old way (cleanliness) has already become a habit/pattern in your neurology. To break any habit, there are a series of steps that you can go through.

    1)Associate pain to this limiting old pattern (i.e. Cleanliness)
    Write down and visualize all the pain it is costing you in your life. What are the consequences of holding on to it/ How is it affecting your marriage, work etc… Unless it is an absolute MUST for you to let go, you will keep holding this pattern

    2) Break the limiting pattern
    The next step is to break the old pattern by using NLP techniques like submodalities, swish pattern, anchoring and erasure techniques. You can read about the whole process in ‘Master Your Mind, Design Your Destiny’ or attend NLP programmes like my ‘Patterns of Excellence’ programme where we will coach you through the whole process. You need to re-condition your mind to HOW IT REPRESENTS germs, cleanliness etc..

    3) Associate lots of benefits and pleasure to the new alternative (i.e. God)
    Write down and visualize yourself receiving all the certainty and security you need from this new source.

    4) Condition the New pattern

    5) Future Pace
    Keep seeing yourself in future situations where you ignore the need to clean or to avoid things you think are dirty and to carry on as per normal

  12. If It Makes You Happy… on October 10th, 2011

    […] I first started working with my life coach, we talked about the six human emotional needs (growth, certainty, uncertainty, love/connection, significance and contribution), and I had to do […]

  13. syl on June 12th, 2013

    you mention this was developed by Anthony Robbins? The CORRECT 6

  14. syl on June 12th, 2013

    My apologies – I accidently hit ENTER 🙂

    I was saying that correct term for the 6 HUMAN NEEDS is called Maslows Hierarchy of needs This was developed by a gentleman named Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper, A Theory of Human Motivation. His theories actually stem from many other theories of human developmental psychology which generally focus on growth in humans. So,not by Anthony Robbins – which by the way, i have been attending his seminars for the past 12 years. 🙂

  15. Dyne on June 26th, 2013

    @ Syl

    Adam’s post refers to the 6 Human EMOTIONAL Needs while Maslow’s theory includes basic human needs such as physiological needs and safety needs. Note that the two topics are different. Cheers!

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